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Title The Zaï system: A West African traditional soil restoration system based on termite activity

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Author(s) Kaiser, D.(2); Konaté, S.(1); Linsenmair, E. K.(2)

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Institution(s) (1)University of Abobo-Adjamé, Department of Natural Sciences, Ivory Coast; (2)University of Würzburg, Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology, Zoology III, Am Hubland, 97074 Würzburg, Germany

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Abstract In Burkina Faso about 25% of the country’s arable land is highly degraded (Zougmoré et al. 2003). A variety of measures have been developed for reducing soil degradation (e.g. Half moon, Mulching, Zaï).
The Zaï is a traditional practice in a few areas of West Africa, which can potentially be extended to many dry areas in Africa (Roose et al. 1999). Abandoned during the wet years (of 1950-1970), this practice was partly revived in Burkina Faso in the 1980s after the dry season of 1970s. It is used only for very degraded and infertile land (bare soils).
The technique consists of (1) digging some microwatershed combined with stone lines for runoff capture and limitation of soil erosion, (2) putting organic matter from domestic and farming activities into the microwatershed to attract termites
Zaï is perfectly suited to meet the needs of small-scale subsistence farmers in semi-arid lands, but it demands high labour input and manure or other organic matter that limits the extent of its usability for some of the farmers and especially for women.
Our study investigates the roles the different termite species play in the Zai system, aiming at better understanding and optimising it and therewith developing a sound basis for its vulgarisation.
The preliminary results show (1) that two termite genera play the key role in this system, namely Odontotermes and Macrotermes), (2) an increase of termite burrowing activities when they are fed with hay compared to wood, (3) an 2 to 4 times increase in soil water infiltration capacity due to the burrowing acitivity of the termites and therewith a positive effect on soil water holding capacity and fertility.
In conclusion the Zaï is a good model of an ecological engineering in soil restoration based on termite activities. Fully understanding and thereupon improving the system will, however, need to consider the interaction of all its components (physical, biological and socioeconomical).

Congress Topic Capacity development

Topic No. 5.6
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Ref. No. 631